It seems like just yesterday I was counting down the days until we could leave South Korea. (Surprisingly it has already been nine months!) With the controlling head teacher, the disruptive kindergarten kids, and the very few breaks we had away from those aforementioned kids, I couldn’t wait to leave. I don’t know how I did it, but I somehow survived a year in the Land of the Morning Calm. Of course it wasn’t all that bad. In fact, there are things I have started to miss about my time in Korea.
And some, well, that are long forgotten about.
Things I didn’t miss about America while in Korea
Having a car
I’ve always wanted to live in a place that was walkable. Although Portland was a great upgrade from Tampa, I still had my car, and would rely on it quite often. While in Korea, I was car free.
There’s often too much stress involved when owning a car. It was nice to not have to worry about when the last time I had an oil change or rotated my tires was. I could have as many beers as I pleased without having to drive home. Nor did any of my income have to go toward gas, insurance, or car payments.
The States (except for a few cities) are quite behind in the times when it comes to public transportation. Public transit in Korea was great, but it probably helped that we were in a bigger city, Daegu.
If I wasn’t walking, I was riding either the bus or the subway (for less than a dollar, I might add). Plus, walking is great exercise, especially when holding multiple bags of shopping.
But I have a car again now that I am in New Zealand, a 21-year-old car at that. I’m back to being lazy and driving the mile or so to work. I’m back to being stressed about the maintenance of having a car and paying for gas.
The wonderful thing about teaching English in Korea is that an apartment is included in the contract. The catch? Well unfortunately you don’t (normally) get to choose your apartment. You take the leap into the unknown and hope you have an okay apartment that hasn’t been decorated with any flower-toilet seat covers or Hello Kitty sticker decals on the fridge. But that’s all part of the experience, right?
The first apartment we had was horrible. It reminded me a lot like a shoebox–it’s size and lack of windows that would eventually attract black mold. After a bit of complaining to our head teacher, the school put us into a one bedroom apartment that wasn’t decorated in the 80s!
Worrying about money
Back in the States, I was able to save some money (with the help of a couple of pasta jars labelled “Globetrotting Fund” and “Get Jamie the hell out of Florida Fund”). When I was living rent-free in Korea, the majority of my monthly income went toward savings. I don’t know many people my age, despite having a Bachelors degree or “real” career, being able to save about 1,000 dollars each month.
With that said, working in Korea allowed me to save enough to go back to Southeast Asia for seven weeks then come to New Zealand with plenty leftover. Of course my savings is dwindling down, and I would love to be earning that money again.
I’ve never liked small talk, whether it is at the grocery store or at work. You know, asking how the weather is or what I did this weekend. (I did nothing. Thanks for asking!) This was why it was wonderful to not be 100% fluent in the national language.
One of the downsides to this is when Korean co-workers talk to each other and say your name, and you have no idea what they’re saying about you. Hopefully just good things! (But probably not…)
In the long run though, the lack of small talk has had a bit of a negative effect on me. As much as I detest small talk, I feel like it’s needed. Otherwise when you come back to a place where English is spoken, you almost forget how to speak.
Making lunch every day
What a chore it is to make lunch for yourself everyday, especially when one likes a bit of dilly dallying in the morning. Our school provided us with a lunch everyday (and it was tasty), even on field trip days. How great! I got to spend those five to ten minutes I would be making lunch with something better, like browsing Reddit or watching Dawson’s Creek.
Things I did miss about America while in Korea
Now I don’t want to be that person who moves to a strange, new country and complains and how it is nothing like my home country. I moved there because I wanted to experience a new place that does strange things (like driving motorbikes on the sidewalk), but you know some things are just better where you come from.
I knew this was going to be the hardest part of my adventure. That’s right. It wasn’t not knowing any Korean or the fact I was about to be continents apart from home. That was the least of my worries. It was leaving behind those darn cats. I felt like I was being selfish. If I had non-furry kids, I couldn’t just dump them at grandma’s house and take off for a year. That’d be frowned upon. Yet, that was how I felt.
But I knew moving across the world was something I needed to do. Some women might need diamonds, babies, or wedding dresses to feel content in life. Me? I need to see the world.
My one year away from the cats has turned into two, and will turn into three. Luckily, the cats haven’t mind my leaving (I think) and are happily living at grandma’s house. (Getting spoiled nonetheless.)
And for my cat withdrawals? I visited a cat cafe.
Nice weather/Central AC
Summers in Korea are hot and humid. The city we were in, Daegu, is considered one of the hottest cities in the country. Living in a humid climate is nothing new to me, but we never got along (especially when you have bangs). After all, it’s why I escaped the south and headed to the west coast.
But there I was in Korea dealing with humidity again. At least in Florida, I had a car with AC. But remember how I mentioned earlier about how I was finally car free? I forgot to say the one disadvantage: walking outside in that humidity.
After a short walk to the subway I would often find myself drenched in sweat standing next to a neatly dressed and sweat-free Korean woman taking a photo of herself. To make matters worse, no matter what time of the year, the heat always seemed to be on blast. The same could be said of the buses.
There also seemed to be a lack of central AC in Korea. Instead they have wall-mounted air conditioners that only keep one room cool. Although we our grateful with our one bedroom, non-tacky apartment, there was only an AC unit in the living room area. We would go to bed sticky and sweaty. The only solution to keep cool was an icepack under my pillow and a portable fan.
Kitchen space/Owning an oven
It’s true what they say–you miss what you can’t have. We didn’t have an oven. In fact, it is quite often the case with many apartments in Korea. I did my research before taking on this adventure and knew that we’d probably not have one. But I didn’t give it much thought.
When I was in Korea, I realized how much I, a lazy cook, relied on an oven in the States: lasagna, enchiladas, and shepherd’s pie. We ended up buying a toaster oven, and though you could only put a tray the size of a hardback novel into it, it was the next best thing.
Yes, I was that white person in Korea who missed Western food. It can get monotonous to have white rice and soup (in 90 degree weather, no less) every day. It’s a great luxury to have a choice. Do I want Italian? Mexican? Greek? Chinese? No problem! The variety in America is wonderful. I don’t think I would ever take that for granted again.
It’s not like beer was non-existent, for me it was the lack of good beer. I tend to be a bit of a beer snob. I am a craft-beer-kind-of-girl. Although I did find Rogue and other craft beer there, I was frugal. I couldn’t get myself to pay six to ten dollars on a 12 ounce bottle of beer.
It just seemed so wrong.
Did I miss anything on the list? What did you love or hate about Korea? Share with me below!